Avoiding this one penalty explains success of Bears offensive line

The Bears don't hold, and it helped explain how inconsistent passing and running games could get to the end zone.

2019 training camp roster analysis

Last season all Chicago Bears offensive linemen combined to commit five holding penalties.

There were 19 offensive linemen in the entire NFL flagged for more holding penalties than all of the Bears linemen put together.

It wasn't always this way, but the philosophy on the offensive line for the Bears now seems to be selective drafting, wise or nearly frugal spending and simply letting Harry do it.

Harry, of course, is offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. He holds a place of high honor in Matt Nagy's view. Considering last season's five holds, he should.

"Our offensive line right now, just the way they grew fundamentally — and a lot of that credit goes to Harry Hiestand for being such a great coach fundamentally with those guys — they believe in what he teaches them," Nagy said. "He’s hard on them, but yet he loves them.

"They understand watching film how can they get better. You see that with every one of our guys right now."

Hiestand coached with the Bears when they went to the Super Bowl under Lovie Smith, then at Notre Dame, and returned last year to Halas Hall to mold Nagy's blockers.

With Hiestand back in Chicago, Bears offensive linemen committed 20 fewer holding penalties than in John Fox's last season as head coach.

Those five offensive holding penalties committed by the Bears last year included the holds against their backups. Remarkably, when Kyle Long went down with a foot injury for half the season and the Bears had to turn to reserves, backups James Daniels, Bryan Witzmann and Eric Kush combined for one holding penalty.

Starting right tackle Bobby Massie did not get flagged for holding last year. Daniels was a rookie who got called only once.

The line pass-blocked well enough for the Bears to finish eighth in fewest sacks allowed with 33. It can't hurt having a mobile quarterback like Mitchell Trubisky to avoid sacks and holds, but the impact isn't that huge. After all, the Dallas Cowboys have a mobile quarterback to block for in Dak Prescott, and the Cowboys were 27th in the league with 32 offensive holds.

The Bears come close to maxing out on their line. They're spending very little and getting much back, at least in pass blocking. This season the Bears will pay their offensive linemen $26.9 million, which ranks 30th in the NFL. It likely will go up at some point this season or when the season ends, because Whitehair's contract expires and unless he has a complete regression he will receive an extension.

The one thing Bears blockers failed to excel at was run blocking — or at least the running game itself failed to excel. The Bears averaged 4.1 yards a rush even with Mitchell Trubisky averaging 6.2 yards per 68 rushes, mostly on scrambles. That was 26th in the league. Trubisky's 421 yards were largely responsible for the Bears finishing 11th in rushing at 121.1 yards a game despite their meager average per rush.

They traded running back Jordan Howard partly because they saw effective play from their offensive line, yet were getting only 3.7 yards a carry from their starting running back.

Now the Bears enter an entirely new phase on their offensive line with Daniels moving from guard to center and Whitehair to guard.

The effect?

Considering what Hiestand did with last year's line, why would they expect anything except positive results?

Key questions about this group

  • Can Kyle Long stay healthy. Three straight partial seasons have followed three straight Pro Bowls. Long is their best blocker when he is healthy, and right now he's the healthiest he's been since early in the 2016 season.
  • Will there be an impact from switching Daniels to center and Whitehair to guard? It's reasonable to expect this, except both players are moving to their natural positions. And last year when Daniels had to play unexpectedly as a rookie at a position he hadn't played since his sophomore year at Iowa, the line was still effective.
  • How will Daniels be as a shotgun snapper now? Whitehair was plagued by inconsistency in this area before making the Pro Bowl as an alternate last year.
  • Can the tackles continue to avoid getting Trubisky blindsided? Earlier in their careers, Charles Leno and Massie both had some problems with outside rushers who relied on quickness.
  • Is there depth at tackle? They moved veteran backup Bradley Sowell to tight end and had him lose a lot of weight, so moving him back now would require some heavy duty eating. Rashaad Coward is slated as the swing tackle, but he's never started an NFL game. Tackles T.J. Clemmings and Cornelius Lucas were signed as free agents but both have had problems in the past with consistency or injuries.
  • Will it last longer for Ted Larsen in his second Bears go-around? The veteran reserve guard/center replaces Witzmann and Kush. He played 2016 in Chicago before heading out for Miami.

The bubble boys

Alex Bars, who can play tackle or guard, and center Sam Mustipher are former Notre Dame disciples of Hiestand and Bars could make a run at the 53-man roster. Bars has been given the OK to practice now after an ACL tear with the Irish last year. He'll be vying with either Lucas or Clemmings and rookies Blake Blackmar, Mustipher and Joe Lowery for one or two spots on the 53-man roster.

A player who could surprise

The MAC produces high-quality NFL players every year and Ohio's Lowery has the size to be an NFL tackle at 6-7, 310. The Bears signed him as an undrafted free agent but he has the potential to fast-track to the 53-man roster. The same is probably also true for Blackmar, who faced good competition at Baylor and is 6-5, 326.

NFL Holding Calls 2018

Top offensive line violators

Garrett Bolles, Denver 11

Greg Robinson, Cleveland 9

Morgan Moses, Washington 8

Wes Schweitzer, Atlanta 7

Desmond Harrison, Cleveland 7

Trent Williams, Washington 7

La'el Collins, Dallas 7

Julien Davenport, Houston 7

Tyron Smith, Dallas 7

Trenton Brown, New England 7

JuWane James, Miami 7

Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis 7

Cameron Erving, Kansas City 6

Alex Redmond, Cincinnati 6

Jermey Parnell, Jacksonville 6

Mike Remmers, Minnesota 6

Russell Okung, LA Chargers 6

J.R. Sweezy, Seattle 6

Caleb Benonoch, Tampa Bay 6